Thursday, August 26, 2010

The End in the Beginning

My soul was made for things eternal. It knows the truth behind the mystery, that it wasn't created for endings and beginnings. And so, my heart rebels at the openings and closings required to exist in this life.

Last Friday, we gathered in the backyard of my childhood home, watching a crew of experts methodically dismantle what many would call "a tree." I call it a part of our family, for if its leaves could speak, they could tell a history of marshmallow roasts, hours singing in the swing, Thanksgiving feasts, football games, and hunts for locust shells.This event, though, was not a closing or an opening to the deceptively scrawny man who scaled the tree faster than the raccoon I've seen do the same on its trunk. To him, this event was just a job.
With ropes and hooks, he and his team opened a backyard to sunlight, a stark brightness that left us squinting, skin scorching from direct sun rays and that left the flora wilting for lack of branches' soft filtering.

To watch. To listen. To "ooh" and "ahh" at the precision of a master of his craft who looks, measures with his hands, and cuts, dropping each limb exactly where he wants it to go.

To take in all the sights, sounds, and smells. This is closure. And it is good.

As I've aged, I've grown better at getting closure. I have learned how to move forward and not look back, not to mourn (as much) what was and what is no longer.

But last Tuesday when I returned home from my Michigan trip, I entered my home to find God had kicked open a door earlier that day. This wasn't just any door from my past that I had softly closed, but one that I had also bolted shut and sealed with crime scene tape, never to be opened again.

Luggage newly rolled into the hall, I entered the kitchen to see the light flash on the answering machine and instinctively pressed the play button.

With the first words, "Hi, this is...", my head literally flew backwards as if the words were bullets that struck me in the head, much like the infamous video of JFK when he was shot.

A man from our former life who cheated my husband out of at least a year's salary before feeding him to the wolves. And now, no apology, no admission of wrongs, nothing to warrant the forgiveness I had granted him years ago.

He wanted back through the door, to hire my husband on a contract basis.

My husband has said yes. They've even met together since then, each acting like men, not speaking of the past wrongs (something this woman doesn't think she could do).

I've spent the last week telling God I didn't know what to pray about this. I still don't. I haven't written about it because I don't know what to write, don't have the answers as to the "why" God reopened a door I never imagined being opened from the other side.

I don't understand.

My anger at this man is long gone; only sadness remains...and, as I've learned this past week, fear as well. Deep in my heart, I'm afraid of what God is doing. I'm content with where He has brought me and my husband. I've made peace with our past.

But now, the past is the present again. And it scares me.

Walking through one door, shutting another, looking behind to see one flung open again--these entrances and exits leave me longing, longing, longing for my heavenly home with the Alpha and Omega who never changes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Blessing of Ignorance

Her richly-colored burgandy dress dips daringly low in front, quite a contrast to its more than modest skirt, whose yards of fabric brush wide across the floor, revealing not even a daintily slippered foot. She dances coyly toward him, then away, circling to the lute and lyre with intricate steps. Later, in deserted hallways, round marble columns, she entices him with her words, teases him with her shy glances, all the while insisting on chastity.

Her game works. Even in his dreams, he burns with lust for her, forsaking all in pursuit of his prey. No matter that he is a married man with a daughter. He is king.

For the past week as my last hurrah before the death of summer, I've been madly crocheting an afghan while watching episode after episode of The Tudors. My husband found the past four seasons available online for free. Since they play on my computer, I can easily point and click past the scenes I disapprove of or just don't want to see. Torture, beheadings,, click, click.

Historical fiction is my love. I blame it on my college English History teacher who stoked the fires of interest in me for all things concerning early British history, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and the Victorian era. But whereas in the past, I've merely read books about their lives, now I'm watching, living those lives.

After fifteen episodes, I'm finding it difficult to watch unfold before my eyes a love affair, a break from the Catholic church, and a dissolution of a first marriage. It's surprised me that the watching is more emotional than the reading. In fact, it's downright depressing.

The problem? I know what is coming.

It is painful to watch a woman try and keep her husband when I know all her efforts, her expressions of love, her prayers are futile. Even the blossoming of love between the king and his second wife isn't fulfilling when I know it's mere hours on screen before he will command that her head leave her body.

But in His infinite wisdom, God has revealed to me one thing--His goodness in not telling me everything about my future.

I'm a "want to know" woman. There have been several instances in my life where I've told God, "If you had only told me what would happen, I would have...."

Now, I'm not so sure.

What If I couldn't prevent the outcome from changing? What if I had to live, counting down days, hours till those events that would leave me broken, even if for just a little while?

I'm starting to understand the blessing of ignorance. There's good in the knowing sometimes. And yet there's good in the not knowing, too.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Digital Overload: The Need for Electronic Fasting

The children and I are fresh off the plane, home from a week in the open farmland of Michigan, far from computers, email, cell phones, and blogging. Life at my Grandma's house is a lot like trekking into the wilderness with a compass, tent, and just the clothes on your back--we entered a much simpler haven, almost completely removed from the modern world of electronics that has made people believe they must be available 24-7.

I'm convinced the clock ticks more slowly up there. 76 degree days lure you outdoors to bask in the not-too-hot sun or run up and down hills, arms spread wide, hair flying behind you. Stiff breezes bend heavy, ripe, pear-laden branches to the ground. The moments right at dusk are for leaping, chasing, and catching fireflies. Simple pleasures. All free and detached from the digital world.

In Michigan, calling my husband on the cell phone merely to "check in" meant walking around the yard like the Statue of Liberty. Arm raised high in the air, I moved from apple to cherry to white pine, squinting in the sun to find where the bars would appear. One bar, two, three; then, I froze as if someone had said "red light!" At strange angles, I'd carefully punch in the number, knowing the bars would disappear if I swiveled my body even 10 degrees.

Checking email required a 15 minute drive to the local library and government identification just for a mere "51 minutes" of computer time. And sending/receiving text messages? They weren't worth the trouble, taking more than a day to get through.

The result was that I spent a week of mostly fasting from the electronic world.
And it was good.

Considering my online teaching job requires me to be available electronically all the time and my ability to keep up with far-away friends and family is done almost exclusively via blogging, email, or social networking sites, I was surprised to find I didn't miss any of it--not even a little bit.
What has surprised me, though, is my hesitance to re-enter the electronic world. I've been home two whole days. I normally blog on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

But I just couldn't force myself to turn on the computer Tuesday night. And Wednesday night, I could only clean out the 400+ junk mails before deciding that was enough. Tonight is my first "real" time on the computer.

I experienced the freedom from a digital society, and I wanted to soar.

School starts back for me on Monday. So, I know I'll be tethered to the everyday- electronic world soon.

But I'm rethinking the place all these computer chips and motherboards have in my life. It's not possible to create an electronic-free haven like the one I just left up north, but it is possible to minimize their importance in my every day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Giving Tree

It came crashing to the ground at four this morning, a much-too-early wake-up call even for my early-riser parents. With flashlights in hand, they walked outside in pajamas and slippers to see the "what" and then the "how much."
An unseen rotten spot atop a major limb. 8+ inches of rain soaking into the sponge-like pulp over the past two weeks. And gravity. Mix those three ingredients together, and 1/4 of the tree cracked off. As it fell, the end of the limbs jammed deep into soft dirt before the broken section's base fell back hard against the tree's trunk, its weight was so massive that it literally pushed the tree backwards, tilting it like the leaning Tower of Pisa so that a tire swing now sits on the ground instead of hanging suspended.Incredibly, it missed the roof--taking off just one shingle. Miraculously, it missed the air conditioners, landing mere feet from the units. The south flower garden fence suffered one picket bent, one broken, and a rose bush smashed. But nothing more. That's God.

For my entire life, this large pin oak has been a main fixture in the back of my childhood home. Towering higher than the rooftops, it has made a great home for many a gray fluffy-tailed squirrel that we fed corn each winter, a few squeaking flying squirrels that we'd come outside to listen for at night, and who knows how many nests of birds whose songs we enjoyed.

Each summer, my brother and I would circle its trunk, searching for locust shells hooked in the bark and later, listening to them sing in a great chorus as dusk settled. We would help our mother plant pink and green "Miss Muffet" caladium bulbs beneath it in a circle and smash the wild blue ink flowers between our fingers, staining our hands purple.

Many a Thanksgiving or Fourth of July, we enjoyed feasts in its shade, rode bicycles over its roots, and spent many hours playing, laughing, and living in the shadow of its branches.

Now, its days are numbered. After our trip to Michigan, it will be deconstructed by a team of professionals.

And I'm sure I will cry.

Trees aren't just "trees" to those of us whose lives are intricately intwined with God's creation. Planting them, watching them grow, watching them die--they form a pattern for tracing life, for marking time.

The triple oaks across the front yard, seeded in 1977 when I was born and still growing tall, although once not much taller than I.

The gumball tree my parents removed when I was a little girl because it was too messy and the gumball and acorn wreath my mother helped me make with the picture of Christ's nativity in the center.

The large leaning pine that fell silently in the night, giving me a big surprise the next morning when I went to start my car for another day at college only to find new pine branches bushing where there was grass the day before.

The twin pin oaks whose bowl-shaped roots I mixed "leaf and mushroom soup in after a rain. Then, those two becoming one after I learned from my college botany teacher that leaving both would mean both would die.

The white pine that fell during the last hurricane, the dogwood planted to mark my brother's birth in 1980 and my mother crying when it "drowned."

My entire life has been marked in trees.

It's those towering grandfathers and grandmothers that make an impression on me, the ones who have stood the test of time, weathered life's storms, and affected lives just by their presence.

Soon, this will be just another well-loved ancient in a long line of those who will be missed.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Homelessness in a Different Light

Same Kind of Different as Me is one of those books that you’re glad you took the time to read. The subtitle is what caught my attention: “a modern-day slave, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together.”

As advertised, the story narrates the lives of two very different men, authors Ron Hall and Denver Moore—one a multi-millionaire art dealer, the other a homeless black man whose life began as a sharecropper on the plantations of Louisiana.

Although difficult to read the first few chapters while learning the characters’ backgrounds, the text quickly takes off once Ron’s wife, Deborah, prods the two men to begin a rather reluctant relationship where the Halls serve every Tuesday.

While I’m not about to give away the ending, the true story is heart-warming. In the end, it convicts all Christians to look at the nature of their service for God. Hall and Moore examine the need for Christians not merely to sacrifice time and money, but to instead invest themselves by opening their hearts, minds, and souls to others they minister to.

In other words, we need to stop playing it safe. To reach others for Jesus, Christians must cross socio-economic boundaries and build real relationships with others different from themselves.